Sunday, April 16, 2017

Letter to Hong Kong -- How Can Hong Kong Become a Smart City?

In recent years, cities around the world are rebranding themselves as smart cities, through the use of information and communications technologies, to try to provide better city services in areas such as transportation, energy and the environment, to improve government services provision and the quality of life for citizens or visitors to these cities.

Hong Kong has joined this smart city bandwagon relatively late, as our current chief executive did not propose to make Hong Kong a smart city until his 2015 policy address. But surely it was better late than never. But what has happened since?

In 2015, our government announced that they will develop Kowloon East into a smart city district. The Kowloon East Office under the Development Bureau hired a consulting firm. Almost two years later, this year, they published a report that suggested a few ideas for trials, including a mobile app to help you walk around East Kowloon, and a smart crowd management system using CCTV surveillance cameras, and so on. Up to now, what we have is a colorful brochure about things to come.

In 2016, after the establishment of the Innovation and Technology Bureau the year before, the new bureau announced that it would hire another consulting firms to draft a blueprint for Hong Kong as a smart city. To this date we are awaiting the result of this grand plan, expected in later this year. In the meantime, to be honest, not much has happened, other than many seminars and powerpoint presentations.

In fact, these were not the only consultants our government hired to study this same topic. Only in 2014, the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau also commissioned yet another study and public consultation for our Digital 21 strategy with the title of “Smarter Hong Kong, Smarter Living.” Nobody remembers or talks about that study anymore. So, we have had three consultancy studies in less than four years’ time. In the meantime, again, not much has happened.

In fact, for a long time, not enough has been done in the way of using technology to improve citizen services in Hong Kong, or to use technology to solve the problems Hong Kong faces as a modern city. For example, we have considered electronic road pricing for our Central district for over thirty years. There is still no decision. For more than thirty years, you can pay for your taxi fares in Tokyo with your credit cards, but you still can’t do that here. Instead, our clueless taxi drivers here love to test us, the passengers, on our knowledge of how to navigate the streets of Hong Kong by asking — do you know how to get there? Almost none of them are using GPS.

Recently, our Transport Department has started a test for parking meters to accept some credit cards, in addition to only Octopus. Great. That was only something you could do in other cities for almost twenty years. Today, in cities such as London, New York, LA or in Australia, they can use mobile phone apps to pay for parking meter fees even remotely. Our government officials told us it can’t be done, because they couldn’t get electricity power to the parking meters. What an excuse!

Only last week in Legco, we processed an amendment in law needed to allow drivers to “stop and pay” using Octopus and credit cards with contactless features to pay for their tunnels and bridges fees. But of course, if you have been to toll bridges and tunnels in many other parts of the world recently, you would have noticed that many have no toll booths left at all.

So why are we so behind?

First, our government likes to fund research and build science parks, but not adopting new technologies and applications. If you go to most of our government’s regional sports facilities, you will still see a “cash only” sign at the counters.

Second, according to a consortium of city governments in the U.S., a smart city is about developing technological infrastructure that enables it to collect, aggregate, and analyze real-time data to improve the lives of its residents, with explicit policies regarding smart infrastructure and data, a functioning administrative component, and community engagement. In other words, data is at the core of any smart city strategy.

When I visited Singapore and met with its officials last September, they told me that it was mandatory that no policy decision can be made in government without justification from data analysis. They mean what they say. Two weeks ago, the Singapore government announced that they will tie up with the National University of Singapore to give data science training to 2,000 public officials annually for five years.

Third, it’s the attitude of knowing your weaknesses, and doing something about them. Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee recently was quoted as saying to a group of leading international investors that “Singapore could do much more when it came to adopting new technology”. When was the last time you heard any self-critique by our senior government officials in Hong Kong? Not even when they managed to lose over 3 million of our citizens' personal data in the biggest cybersecurity breach ever in Hong Kong. They simply said, “We’re sorry, but we have been doing it all along, and don’t worry, it’s still safe.”

A few days ago, PM Lee of Singapore posted on his Facebook page about an old mantra he saw when he visited Facebook’s headquarters in Silicon Valley last year — “Move fast and break things.” He went on to say: 

“By international standards, we have an excellent civil service. But we can and must do better at improvising, and not be trapped by the silos and established ways of working that have built up over the years. Things move fast, and we need to respond with openness, flexibility, and the ability to work informally and entrepreneurially.”

These are advice well worth noting by our incoming chief executive. Move fast and break things — and I don’t mean her political opponents. If she can start looking at our government and civil service that way, with the boldness to make changes where they are needed, it will go a long way beyond just making Hong Kong a smart city. Our government may finally be able to tackle some of the core conflicts our society face. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Mock Debate on "Habeas Corpus should never be suspended in cases involving terrorist suspects"

(At the International Parliamentary Conference on National Security, on 28 March 2017)

Madame Baroness, I speak to support the resolution proposed, “that this House agrees that habeas corpus should never be suspended in cases involving terrorist suspects.”

To me, habeas corpus is a fundamental part of the principles that form the spirit and the manifestation for the rule of law. The rule of law is all about putting limits on those with public power.

Sometimes it is easy for us to assume that every country in the world enjoys the same level of democracy. But, they don’t. In my territory, Hong Kong, for example, under the One Country, Two Systems arrangement, we are a part of the People’s Republic of China, with a supposedly high degree of autonomy, including our own independent judiciary branch. But we don’t have true democracy. Only last Sunday did we see that once again, a small Election Committee, that many of us would rather call a “Selection Committee”, picked a new Chief Executive for Hong Kong for the next five years, one favoured by Beijing, ahead of another much more popular candidates with a much higher support from the public.

So, increasingly we see our executive branch abusing its power, including prosecuting its political opponents. You may remember a prolonged but peaceful occupation of our central business district, in what was called the Occupy Central movement, or the Umbrella Movement, a few years ago, when our people protested for more democracy. Part of the reasons for the occupation was was because the police fired tear gas canisters at unarmed protestors in the beginning. Almost three years later, on this Monday, our government has just prosecuted the so-called organizers of the protests of public unrest. If this motion carries, my government might as well call me a terrorist.

So, the critical question is how you define terrorism, in a territory or country with no real democracy, where its legislature, like the one I came from, is elected without equal suffrage by its citizens, and is controlled by those who follow the central government, and our central government is a totalitarian regime ruled by a dictatorial politburo and a puppet legislature, all in Beijing, an often gross violator of human rights, a country where habeas corpus hardly exists. If we give up habeas corpus for one thing, it can be taken away for others. Indeed, for some of the people arrested and detained during the Umbrella Movement, if not for the writ of habeas corpus taken up by their lawyers to the court, they could not be freed from unreasonable detention by our law enforcement.

I think it is often easy for western countries to forget that what they do in the good intention of trying to make its own country safer may make themselves very bad examples to the rest of the undemocratic world where we don't enjoy the same level of democracy, due process and independent judiciary, or that these institutions are under serious threats. The implications of western countries to limit some people’s rights, even in the name of anti-terrorism, certainly will have serious impact beyond its own borders. So I have to support the motion put forward. 

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Letter to Hong Kong -- "No More CY Leung" Must Begin on Dec 11

Next Sunday will be an important date for the future of Hong Kong. On that day, about 240,000 voters in the subsector election of the Election Committee will head to the polls to select the 1,200 members EC.

Clearly this is not a fair and equal election. It is a shame that almost twenty years after the handover, Hong Kong people still cannot elect our Chief Executive, and we're still hopelessly waiting for the universal suffrage that we were promised. Yet, the competition in the EC election this year is the most intense ever, particularly in the professional subsectors.

There are two reasons for this phenomenon. As the first EC election after the Umbrella Movement, the will to participate from the many so-called post-umbrella professional groups was strong, as these educated, middle-class and often younger professionals have fought together from the occupation movement to the Legislative Council's rejection of the government's political reform package in 2015.

A strong sense of re-awakening was evident in many professional sectors, working both within their own sectors as well as across different sectors, forming a strong bond and special camaraderie, fighting alongside one another in the struggle for democracy. They came to the understanding that this EC election will be particularly important for Hong Kong, as we will face a crucial crossroad and a critical choice, between a future with, or without, CY Leung.

CY Leung is obviously the most undesired Chief Executive in the history of the Special Administrative Region, pushing Hong Kong closer and closer to the abyss of divisiveness, social unrest and poor governance, and yet, many political pundits here are increasingly seeing him as the favourite in the upcoming CE election race. What can be more ridiculous than that? The reason is simple, because Hong Kong citizens don't get to choose on our own, have no votes, but can only watch on the sidelines over a pre-selected field of candidates anointed by Beijing.

However, today, less than four months before the election day of the CE, no credible candidates have emerged or announced their candidacies. Not even CY Leung. Clearly, all eyes are on the outcome of the EC election next Sunday. A strong result from the democrats may influence Beijing's strategy, as the democrats in the EC together with a sizeable anti-CY Leung faction in the business sectors may be insurmountable enough to make the nomination and eventual election of CY Leung an impossible task even with Beijing's manipulation.

That's why the professionals from different sectors have came out in force in this EC election. From the traditionally democratic strongholds such as legal, education and social services, to others with solid democratic support like accounting and information technology, to other subsectors where few candidates were fielded in previous EC elections, such as medical, health services, engineering, architecture, surveying and town planning, even Chinese medicine. Together they identify themselves as Democracy 300+, symbolising a target of reaching over 300 seats, that is, more than a quarter of the EC, which may turn out to be a critical tipping point in turning back CY Leung.

There are three principles that bind the Democracy 300+ candidates -- first, an absolute no for CY Leung; second, restarting the political reform process for universal suffrage without pre-screening of certain candidates, and third, adhering to the basic core values of Hong Kong such as equality, justice and the rule of law.

Achieving our target in this EC election isn't going to be easy. And it will require a high voter turnout. But historically, EC election turnout were always much lower than Legco elections. For a small-circle election that only a small fraction of the population has voting rights, this is not surprising.

And, regrettably the Registration and Electoral Office is not helping to make things easy. Not only that the number of polling stations will be greatly reduced -- from 580 in the Legco election in September to only 110 next Sunday -- meaning that most voters must travel a much longer distance to an unfamiliar polling location. Many may simply give up.

What's worse is that most voters have yet to receive their polling information cards, causing much confusion and ignorance about the voting process and the location of their assigned polling stations. There's simply no excuse for this, given that the voter registry is basically the same as the one just a couple months ago, and with a much smaller set of eligible voters. I don't want to yet outright accuse the government of purposely driving down voter turnout, but that may well be the outcome.

That's why your vote will be important, if you have one. Vote for Hong Kong, not for your own professional and sectoral interests. Please vote on behalf of those people who are not as privileged as you and I, who can vote next Sunday. Think about those who want to say no to CY Leung but have not a chance and a vote, and cast your votes exclusively for those who will cast him out. Hong Kong cannot afford another five years of divisiveness and incompetence. The choice on next Sunday may be our last chance.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Speech on motion on "Combating 'Bogus Refugees'"

Today, the title of the motion we are debating is “combating ‘bogus refugees’”. I find that wording to be disturbing. We are not talking about combating the problem — if any — of the people that are referred to as ‘bogus refugees’, but combating these people themselves. Well, I like to refer to them in a more humane and respectable way, by calling them as they are, that is, asylum-seekers. 

Of course, our colleagues in the pro-establishment camp who are in support of these draconian measures targeting the refugees will say that it is only the ‘bogus’ ones that they are targeting, not the real asylum-seekers. Thank you very much. But it is clear to us that many of the measures that they talk about, such as encampment, would be applied to all asylum-seekers. 

Such is the hypocrisy and the discrimination in disguise. When our pro-establishment colleagues gleefully talk about Indian and Pakistani people gathering and scaring away local folks, they have not presented any proof that these people are asylum-seekers, so there is no basis at all of making the connection to their worries to the refugee problem. In other words, are some of these local folks simply scared when they see non-Chinese or colored people gathering in their neighborhood? How much of those concerns are justified? How much of that would be cultural misunderstanding, or plain racial discrimination? 

While many of our local media seem so eager to cover news linking asylum-seekers to crime, official figures never quite gel. Asylum-seekers committing crimes represent a very small portion of the overall statistics. Some local folks may also think that asylum-seekers are taking away jobs, and many of the pro-establishment political parties like to play up on that. But official figures show that protection claimants represented only 3.4% of the over 6,700 illegal workers arrested last year. 

Are there abuse of the system? Absolutely. But how much of these abuses are caused by the system itself? According to human rights workers and lawyers, a big part of the reason of these abuses is due to the government’s delay and lack of training for its personnel in dealing with such bogus claims, which in turn cause more delay in handling the cases, which results in effectively inviting or attracting more bogus claims to come in. 

Between March 2014 and December 2015, 3,165 non-refoulement claims have been screened, and only 18 of them were substantiated, including three on appeal. According to reports, the acceptance rate in Hong Kong — which stands at 0.56% since unified screening was introduced, is one of the lowest in the developed world. The global acceptance rate is around 43%. 

In contrast, Germany last year screened 60% of 965,000 asylum claims within five months. 

The United Nations Committee Against Torture stated that, by denying asylum-seekers the rights to work, Hong Kong forced them to “live on in-kind assistance below the poverty line for long periods of time,” which rights advocates convincingly point to as the cause of more illegal wok and criminal activities. 

Many protection claimants have formed a bitter impression that Hong Kong is doing everything possible to get rid of them — and certainly many of our colleagues have reinforced that impression by what they have said in this debate. The constant reports on ‘bogus refugees’ and the kind of messages delivered by some of our esteemed colleagues in this chamber must have made an impact on the morales of the protection claimants in Hong Kong, and made them more distressed about potentially receiving a negative decision. 

A couple months ago, after the movie “Snowden” came out, and Edward Snowden of course is the NSA whistleblower who himself sought asylum in Hong Kong in 2013, well, the actor who played Edward Snowden in the movie, Joseph Gordon-Levitt made a YouTube video appeal, and Edward Snowden also made his own appeal on Twitter, for four people they called “Snowden’s Guardian Angels”. Apparently, for two weeks in Hong Kong before he left, Edward Snowden stayed with two refugee couples from Sri Lanka and the Philippines in Hong Kong.

Edward Snowden said: ”These people have gotten up every morning in the face of tragedy and persecution, and go to sleep each night with whole families in a single bed. And though they have nothing, they risked everything to do what is right. Everything that I thought I knew about bravery was nothing compared to what I saw in Hong Kong.” They are not given enough resources to get by, but they are also not allowed to work. If they do work, they face 22 months of prison.

Asylum-seekers are people too. They came here to escape from the horrors back home. While they may be safe from physical danger here, but they fear day and night about being sent back. According to volunteers working with asylum-seekers, many of them said in Hong Kong they live, but they have no life.

This is why I find the original motion and the amendments by our pro-establishment colleagues to be so deplorable with its ignorance of the real root cause of the problem, and the exaggeration in its nature and the fearmongering in its tone. If we dare call ourselves an international city, let’s act like one, and take up our international responsibility and show the world the kindness we offer.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016














Sunday, May 29, 2016

Letter to Hong Kong -- What do you know about my hashtag?

Something is wrong about the upcoming elections in Hong Kong in 2016 and 2017, before they even have started. Our election watchdog, the Electoral Affairs Commission, apparently is telling all of us in Hong Kong to stay off the Internet and social media, or you may be breaking the law.

That may sound incredible in this day and age, when people’s lives revolve around social media, and all the messages they share among friends and strangers. 

But, just as more and more people in Hong Kong, as in other parts of the world, are beginning to engage in more and more sharing and discussing about politics and elections on popular social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, or popular local online services such as Hong Kong Golden, as well as messaging platforms such as Whatsapp, the EAC is telling us that such messages may be considered as advertising under the law, and unless these messages are previously approved by the candidates or their agents, those who post or share these messages may be liable to the offence of incurring costs to candidates without their consent, under election laws. 

In fact, earlier this month, the ICAC launched an investigation of a supporter of one of the candidates in the February Legco by-election for New Territories East, who reportedly shared support messages on Facebook to other users. 

According to the EAC, expressing support for a candidate to enhance his or her chances to be elected, or criticizing a candidate to lessen his or her chances to be elected, can both satisfy the definition for an election advertisement. It doesn’t matter whether you are sharing or writing a text message, creating your own graphics or videos to share, changing your profile pictures, or even adding a particular hashtag to express your view for or against a candidate, you may already be breaking the law, said the EAC. 

I’m sorry, but do any of the three members of the EAC use any of these social media platforms? Do they know what they’re talking about? Do they know that the Internet has become a critical or even deciding factor in many recent elections, from Taiwan to London, as well as the U.S. presidential election. Researchers are actively analysing between the social media engagement scores of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, measuring the effects of the likes they get, the mentions they receive, and the sharing and retweets they get with their posts. Yet in Hong Kong, our election watchdog is effectively telling us to shut up online. In terms of the threat against freedom of expression, I don’t know if threatening to sue us is worse or better than Iran shutting down social media altogether during elections, but, this still virtually guarantees Hong Kong will end up as a laughing stock of the free world. 

What’s even more laughable, but not funny, is that, our EAC also told us in their press briefing earlier in the month that while a simple “please support so-and-so” message could be deemed election advertising, if you have stated any of the candidate’s merit or demerit as reasons, that would possibly constitute a commentary, and you might be off the hook. So, don’t just say I support Mr X. But you can instead say, I support Mr X because he is handsome. I don’t know if I should laugh or cry over something so stupid.

What happens here is so common in Hong Kong these days, where we have outdated laws, rules and regulations, and instead of changing the rigid rules that can no longer apply to new conditions, our bureaucrats would still force new stuffs into their old cans. To them, the less they do, the fewer risks they would have to take. What they don’t know, they try not to learn.

Sadly, this is the government that is talking about encouraging innovation and developing technology day and night, but they don’t admit that in fact, from the Uber incident to election advertisements, our government stands right in the path of innovation, blocking progress. The government is our problem, not our solution. 

So, with two of my fellow legislators, Dennis Kwok and Alvin Yeung, we launched a Facebook campaign that we called “What do you know about my hashtag”, to highlight this gross stupidity looming over our upcoming elections. We have written to Facebook, as well as the Secretary for Justice and the Secretary for Innovation and Technology, to see if they can enlighten us about the costs of various social media actions, such as changing a profile picture, posting a status or a graphic, making a comment, tagging a user or a page, streaming a live video, or putting up a hashtag. So far, Facebook has officially replied to us that they do not consider that there would be any cost involved. 

Let’s see if our government secretaries or the EAC can shed light on any hidden costs that even Facebook doesn't know about. In the meantime, I hope each of you will submit your views and questions over this matter to the EAC during its public consultation, before June 9.  Tell them what they don't know about your hashtags. 

-- "Letter to Hong Kong," May 29, 2016

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Letter to Hong Kong -- The End of ATV

Just when many of us in Hong Kong are happily preparing for the coming of the Year of the Monkey, 300 workers of Asia Television are facing an uncertain future, with the station trimming down its broadcast to a minimal level, even ending its news broadcast altogether since Saturday. The oldest television station in Hong Kong, with almost 59 years of history in Hong Kong, may go off the air any minute now.

To many of us who to certain extent over the years grew up with ATV, or Rediffusion Television from 1957 to 1982, it is a sad moment of the passage of a part of Hong Kong’s history. But to the employees of ATV, it is much more than that. Many of them had been working unpaid since December, doing all they could to keep the station on the air, while watching the company’s owner and investors fidgeting around with a laid-back attitude as if to say it is “none of their business”, and at the same time watching our government and broadcast regulator sitting there paying lip services as if to say “there is nothing that they can do.”

Certainly, ATV by cutting its news programs or even going off the air before the end of its license period on April 1, 2016, is going to be a breach of its licensing obligation and ATV will be still subject to fines and punishment by the regulator, the Office of the Communications Authority, but that is not the most important matter now. After all, ATV’s major creditor, Wang Zheng, has made a court application to liquidate the company’s asset. With that, a likely scenario would be that the unpaid salaries of its staff might remain unpaid by the company’s investors.

We should of course condemn these deplorable and very possibly illegal acts of irresponsibility, but under layers of corporate ownership shielding and protection, the bosses may very likely get away with it completely. How much more bizarre can it get when the supposed major investors of ATV is identified as its major creditor instead, and becoming the first in line to liquidate the company? Then we must ask, why wasn’t there anything that our government and its regulator could do to prevent this almost inevitable outcome to ATV’s employees and their families?

Earlier this week, when asked about the plight of these ATV workers, the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development urged other players in the TV industry to help offer them jobs. When I heard that cold and insensitive comment, I felt my anger swelling. How did these hundreds of ATV workers end up like this? What did the government do since it announced that ATV’s free TV broadcast license would not be renewed back in April 1, 2015? Nothing. What did this Administration do to prevent new TV competition from getting their licenses so that they can invest and hire people? Well, everything.

Indeed, this Administration has done all it could on great lengths to change the previously existing “open sky” television broadcast policy, overriding the decision of the professional regulator to bar Hong Kong Television from getting its license, and continued to fight the judicial review HKTV raised, and even after the court ruled in favor of HKTV, this Administration felt it was necessary to appeal the judgment to make sure we do not get a new TV station online soon. And now, the Secretary in charge of broadcast policy is telling those “other stations” to offer jobs to ATV employees? What a shameless thing to say!

As a matter of fact, what we are witnessing is the perfect case of misguided public policy that has killed not just a few companies or their aspirations like ATV and HKTV, but a whole industry. Even after the long-overdue decision not to extend ATV’s license, what did the government do to prepare for the contingency of ATV not being able to last itself until April 1 of this year? Well, too little, too late, like, for the transfer of ATV’s analog spectrum to RTHK, so that the remaining up to 400,000 households still watching analog TV only will not be left with only TVB, the government and RTHK are still just going through a tender process now to identify a service provider to help build the transmission network, with less than two months to go before April 1. Why such procrastination?

But even more importantly, what about the digital spectrum held by ATV? One third of that has been assigned to Hong Kong Television Entertainment, which will start its broadcast service supposedly on April 1, but both that company or our government has not offered us any idea of what the initial coverage will be or how users will be able to access its programming over the fiber network. There’s still no word as to when that one-third of ATV’s digital spectrum assigned to it will be up and ready for broadcast.

And what about the other two-thirds of ATV’s current digital spectrum? We will have to wait for the next one or two TV stations to get their licenses, and although we have at least three such companies waiting in the pipeline – including Fantastic TV, Forever Top, and the second application of HKTV. Yet considering the pace of such licensing processes in recent years, it will probably take at least two to three years to get these precious public assets back in use again by anyone.

Such is the sad state of our TV industry for Hong Kong, a total disgrace for an international city with certainly the commercial, financial, technical and creative capacities, but stopped by government inaptitude and the hostility this Administration holds against the media and any more outlets for speech and news contents that it feels it can’t control.

So what can we do? In the coming years, the government will launch a once again long-delayed and overdue consultation on the merging of our broadcasting and telecommunications regulations. It will be both an opportunity to right the wrong by eliminating the overriding power held by the Chief Executive to single-handedly dictate our broadcast policies, as well as a threat that more powers will be consolidated in the hands of the Chief Executive, which we must oppose.